The Complete Guide To Creating Opt-in Forms That Convert

Psst…

Hey, you – yeah, you! – you, uh… wanna join my newsletter?

In this guide, I’m going to talk about what it takes to create the perfect opt-in forms that supercharge your email list’s growth.

Hundreds of thousands of companies pay monthly for email marketing software. Whether it be Mailchimp, HubSpot, ConvertKit, or the literally hundreds of available platforms – most companies know that “the money is in the list.”

But how do these companies get people onto their email list?

Design Academy

They use opt-in forms, which – depending on who you ask – are super effective or downright obnoxious.

And, according to a study put out by Sumo, the average opt-in form gets about 2% of unique visitors to leave their email address.

As I’ll soon cover, this is a general estimate. Some opt-in forms, like content upgrades, can get upwards of 10% of visitors to convert. Others perform worse. Your website’s opt-in performance ultimately hinges on what you’re pitching (the offer), who you’re offering it to (traffic quality), and other factors.

Most website owners, including pretty much anyone who pays for email marketing software, have opt-in forms on their site.

And if you’re reading this, you probably aren’t all that happy with your conversion rates.

Or maybe people are joining your email list, but they’re not as engaged as you want them to be – and, without fail, people are typing in their email and quickly going “cold.”

In this article, we’re going to get into the whats and, more importantly, the whys of great opt-in forms. Done right, you shouldn’t be surprised to find that what I cover below can help you potentially 2x your current opt-in rate (and, in turn, double your sales.)

Here’s what I’ll cover:

  1. Help you understand why opt-in forms work and what they are
  2. What should you offer people to get them on your list?
  3. The 5 components that go into a great opt-in form’s copy
  4. Explain opt-in form placement
  5. Summarize best-practices around not only your opt-in forms, but also their placement
  6. Give you a framework for coming up with a fantastic, high-converting opt-in form

What is an opt-in form? And why do random Internet strangers give you their email address?

Let’s start with the basics: What’s an opt-in form? And why would random Internet strangers give you their email address?

Here’s why we think it’s important to start with the fundamentals…

Too many marketers think, “Cool! I have an email list now. I need to get people on it. I’ll go and throw together a ‘Join My Newsletter’ form and put it all over my site.”

Newsletter Optin

But why should people want to join your newsletter?

And how does your opt-in form connect together where someone is now with where they want to be?

Allow me to share a tale about a young man and how he learned the hard way that opt-ins need to be crafted with intent…

“Why the heck would I want project management software?”

Back in 2012, I had just released a new software product called Planscope.

I’d heard that if I wanted to sell software online, I had to first get people to my website (duh!) And the best way to get people to my website? Write content. Lots and lots of content.

Planscope screenshot

So I started to blog about everything I knew about consulting (Planscope was, after all, a project management tool for consultants.)

And at the bottom of every blog article was a beautifully designed call-to-action that I thought was going to fix all my growth problems:

“Ready for project management that you AND your clients will love? Sign up for a free trial today”

But there was a bit of a disconnect…

You see, people found my content because they searched for something (“Hey Google, how do I write a proposal?”) or they were linked to it from /r/freelance or other online communities of consultants.

These people weren’t looking for software. They were trying to figure out how to get clients, or write proposals, or raise their prices.

“GAH WHY AM I BEING SHOWN SOFTWARE? I JUST WANNA FIND CLIENTS…“

^^ This is what was going through the minds of people seeking out information, but the dumb software salesperson in me thought that I just needed lots of traffic and – boom – I’d start turning that traffic into trials.

What I was doing and what readers were expecting were at odds.

People were here for information, but that’s not what I was offering them.

I wasn’t in tune with what people were telling me they needed, and I was offering the wrong thing to the right people.

What you offer matters

It isn’t enough just to stick a form on a blog post, your homepage, or an exit popup and think that you’re “building your audience.”

You need to think about who people are, why they’re on your site, and how you can best serve them.

As I’ll get into in a bit, the opt-in you put on your blog might need to be different than the one you put on your homepage. The people reading your blog? Might have just shown up from Google, know zilch about you or your brand, and just want some info. Those on your homepage? They’ve probably heard about you, or are digging deeper into what exactly you offer.

What you offer, and when you offer it, is going to be a recurring theme throughout this guide.

The secret to having a great opt-in conversion rate has little to do with the tool you use, what template you’re using, or other things marketers like to squabble over.

A great opt-in conversion rate has everything to do with what you're offering and how relevant it is to the person on the other end.

Getting someone to act on an opt-in understands where they are now, and points to a better future: a better version of themselves or their business.

An opt-in form is really just a way to get someone to take the next step forward

Technically speaking, your opt-ins take an email address and other data (like someone’s name) and create a record in your email marketing database. Now you have license to email this new subscriber, enroll them in automated pitch sequences, and more.

But, from the perspective of the people on your website, your opt-in forms are ways that they can self-select to take the next step forward.

  • Ready to finally learn how to get clients? Take our free email course
  • Want to start a new business in 2020? Download our checklist
  • Think your opt-in rate sucks? Here’s our free guide

What you’re promising, and what you’re giving, should align with who they are and what they need.

And if you want these forms to perform, you need to make sure you have the right offer in place. The offer is everything.

Now let’s dig a bit deeper into what you could offer people on your website…

What should you offer?

At a minimum, your baseline offer should be to get anonymous visitors onto your email list.

They type in their email address, you add them as a contact in your email marketing database, and then the next time you send a newsletter they’ll get it.

But, unless the people on your website are intentionally there because they can’t wait for you to send more emails in the future, a standard newsletter opt-in is a pretty weak opt-in offer.

You need to sell your offer.

Here’s what I mean:

No one wants more email. And no one’s ever woken up and thought, “You know what? I’d LOVE to subscribe to more email newsletters today.”

If you want to get someone to willingly give you permission to contact them in the future, you need to first provide something of value right away.

A newsletter can be valuable, but there’s nothing intrinsically valuable about “getting regular emails from RightMessage”.

Then what is valuable?

  • Email courses
  • Cheatsheets
  • Checklists
  • Assessments
  • Webinars (or really, any type of gated video content)
  • Guides

Basically, any asset that you can offer in exchange for an email address.

When you’re opting in for a course, you expect to immediately be sent a lesson. If a checklist, you expect to be able to download and print out a PDF.

In the world of online marketing, these things are typically called Lead Magnets. They’re designed to draw someone in to fill out your opt-in form and, ultimately, join your email list. Lead magnets give you permission to follow-up with (and sell to) somebody who “purchases” a lead magnet from you in exchange for their contact information.

Coming up with opt-in offers is best done within the context of your overall Offer Funnel.

Here’s what I mean by this…

You have stuff that you’re selling. These might be courses, software, or coaching and consulting gigs.

You create content and build an email list with the hopes that people will eventually buy your stuff.

A great opt-in offer is something that makes total sense to someone who fits the profile of the type of customer you’re pursuing, but probably doesn’t yet know they need what you have just yet.

Eugene Schwartz, in his book Breakthrough Advertising, maps out the different stages of customer awareness:

  • Most Aware. Your best customers. They’re loyal to you and regularly come back for more.
  • Product Aware. They know they’ve got an issue, they know it can be solved, and they know what you have to offer. They’re considering buying from you.
  • Solution Aware. They know that they have a problem and that it’s solve-able, but they’re still trying to figure out how.
  • Problem Aware. They know they have a problem, but they have no clue as to how to go about fixing it.
  • Unaware. Ah, to be blissfully unaware! These are people who don’t really know that the problem (or problems) that you solve for your customers impacts them – if it even affects them at all.

Levels of awareness

(Image credit: SparkPPC)

The job of whatever marketing you do is to move people systematically up this ladder and toward becoming a customer. You want problem aware people to realize their problems can be fixed, then you want them to realize that you have a way of solving their issues, and then – finally – you want them to become incredible customers.

Your Offer Funnel is how people navigate through everything you have to offer, whether freebies or paid products/services.

In the example I gave earlier, on the Planscope blog I was pitching people who were either totally unaware or possibly problem-aware on a product (my project management software.)

They weren’t ready yet, which is why the offer for a trial bombed.

It wasn’t until I released my “5 Days To Better Freelancing” email course that I started to finally get the trials I was hoping for with Planscope.

Five Days to Better Freelancing

Why?

Because “5 Days To Better Freelancing” was really relevant to someone who was Googling for information on how to find clients, raise their rates, or write better proposals. After all, who doesn’t want to be a better freelancer?

I knew that if they’re reading any of the articles on my site, they were probably a freelancer.

And if they’re searching for content about pricing or whatever, they definitely don’t think that the software they’re using to manage their projects has anything to do with it.

After going through my five day email course, I’d point out a lot of reasons why how they manage their clients might be impacting their perceived professionalism, which can affect what they’re paid and how they’re getting (or, more likely, not getting) referred.

The email course culminated by spelling out clearly why bad client management can affect what you get paid and how you get clients (which helped become more problem-aware by better understanding how this problem is affecting them, and by realizing that they’re not alone), presented tips on how they could get better at managing clients (helping them become solution-aware), and then presented Planscope as a turnkey way of doing all this (they’d then be product-aware.)

My offer funnel was relatively simple and straightforward:

5 Days To Better Freelancing → Planscope Trial → Planscope Customer

When deciding what you can offer, consider how you can have it help you create customers.

I’ve since sold Planscope, but my content on freelancing and consulting is still around. Over at Double Your Freelancing, I have an email course called Charge What You’re Worth that appeals to anyone who isn’t happy with their consulting income, and helps them understand what’s at the root of why most freelancers are being paid like crappy commodities.

What’s the job of an email course?

  • Help people become problem-aware by teaching people how the standard way of pitching and pricing leads to low conversions and budgets
  • Establish trust and expertise by giving a lot away for nothing
  • Lead people to becoming solution-aware, and offering either my product (paid course) that serves as the “shortcut” to fixing the problem (complete framework, templates, videos, etc.) or to fix the problem on their own by using what I’ve taught them

This email course is my standard offer to just about anyone anonymous who reads Double Your Freelancing. And, as I’ll explain in the next section, I’ve been able to use segmentation to redescribe how I position this offer to different people.

But, had I had more time, I’d create multiple free offers that lead to the different paid products I have. Depending on you, your business, and your bandwidth offering different offers to different people with different needs is always a good idea.

Deciding on your offer (or offers) doesn’t need to be all that complicated.

In fact, it could just be your newsletter opt-in – with a bonus delivered immediately (like a recording of a webinar you did or something.)

Ideally, it’ll be something that’s very intentionally designed to lead people through a super valuable series of educational emails that deliver problem, solution, and product-awareness. Those are best for conversions, both email opt-ins and sales.

But don’t let the lack of a “perfect” offer hold you back. If you’re just getting started or have always just offered your newsletter, think through how you could make hearing from you in the future a lot more compelling to someone who’s on your website and enjoying your content.

What goes into a great opt-in form?

Your opt-ins are basically just positioned offers:

  • Offer = the thing you’re giving away (which was just covered)
  • Positioning = how you describe why they should take you up on your offer

The copy, or language, that attempts to sell your offer to someone is what I think of as the positioning of the offer. Or, simply put: “What’s in it for me?”

Typically, most opt-in forms have the following elements:

  • A headline
  • A description or subheadline
  • The form fields (e.g. an email address and first name input)
  • A submit button
  • Subtext that says you aren’t going to sell or share their information

When coming up with the perfect way of describing your opt-in offer – which really just means what headline and subheadline you decide to write – there are 5 different components that should be directing what you write.

  • Relevance: How well what you’re offering relates to what someone’s doing on your website
  • FOMO: Why someone would be crazy to miss out on what you have to offer
  • Understanding: You proving that you get the individual needs of the person you want on your list
  • Specificity: You making it very clear what they’ll get right now by opting-in
  • A Promise: You demonstrating how someone will benefit longterm from their relationship with you

Relevance

You want to make sure what you’re offering is relevant to the person you’re pitching it to. It doesn’t matter if you’re offering a free email course or a paid product – it needs to be relevant and applicable.

In coming up with your headline and subheadline copy, you want to ensure that you’re anchoring what you’ve got against whatever you know about the visitor.

For example, how does your offer fit in given:

  • The article/podcast/video page they’re on
  • The type, or category, of content that they’re checking out now
  • The category of content they’ve consumed the most of on your website
  • Original landing page (what brought them to your site)
  • Referring domain or the specific page that sent them to your site (what kind of people does that referring site attract?)
  • Any pre-optin survey or quiz data

Take, for example, my website Double Your Freelancing.

Like I mentioned before, I have a single offer for anonymous visitors: the Charge What You’re Worth email course.

Here are a few ways that I could make this single opt-in offer more relatable and relevant to visitors on my site:

#1: What are people reading the most of?

According to Google Search Console, just a few key articles are responsible for most of my site’s search traffic over the last three months:

  • Guide To Writing Client Emails - 13,378 clicks
  • Freelancers Guide To Retainer Agreements - 4,302
  • How To Get New Clients With Facebook Ads - 2,421
  • Getting Paid As A Freelancer - 1,188

Google Search Console

When someone’s reading one of these articles, I could reposition either my Charge What You’re Worth email course or even my newsletter in a way that makes it more relevant to the reader.

The most obvious way to make each article more relevant would be by offering an accompanying one-off offer for each. The client email article would have an accompanying cheatsheet. The Facebook ads article might have a free video interview I did with a Facebook expert. And so on.

But I don’t have that material, so instead I need to think of how I can take what I’ve got and make it more specific to the reader.

Now that you know how to get paid as a freelancer, why not raise your rates?

Join my free, 9-lesson email course that has helped tens of thousands of freelancers how to not only close their next project proposal, but get paid what they’re worth.

Try going through and altering how you pitch your offer depending on what someone is reading, viewing, or listening to of yours.

#2: What kind of content are people reading as they move around my site?

RightMessage tracks what category of content people are reading, and over time develops a leaderboard for each reader, identifying their favorite content category.

WP Categories in RightMessage

This is powerful because it allows you get an idea of what someone’s needs are based on what kind of content they’re consuming the most of.

Here’s what kind of content people are reading the most of:

  • Marketing Your Business - 45.4%
  • Running Your Business - 16.0%
  • Start Freelancing - 11.9%
  • Pricing Your Services - 8.1%

This tells me that most people on my website has a marketing problem, which means that they’re struggling to find clients. Pricing, streamlining a business, etc. – all of that’s moot without clients, right?

Using this data, I can present my email course in a way that makes it clear that by applying what I teach, readers will be able to learn how to promote themselves and get the right clients in the door.

Struggling with getting great clients for your freelancing business?

Join my free, 9-lesson email course that has helped tens of thousands of freelancers learn how to better position and promote their business.

#3: What are people telling me?

Not everything can be uncovered solely by looking at how someone is behaving on your website. Sometimes you need to just ask somebody about who they are and what they need help with.

Don’t underestimate the power of using a simple survey to reposition a standard offer to your visitors.

When people arrive on Double Your Freelancing, I ask them three questions:

  • Are you currently consulting full-time?
  • If YES, then are you solo or do you work at an agency?
  • If NO, then what’s holding you back?
  • What kind of work do you primarily do?

Setting this up with RightMessage is pretty straightforward:

CTA Funnel DYF

I’m then able to combine any survey data, like why they’re not freelancing yet or what kind of work they do, with behavioral data, like the kind of content they’re reading the most of.

Here’s how this plays out:

Keep reading about marketing… or put into place a system for building a great freelance design business.

Enroll now in my free course, Charge What You’re Worth. Every lesson is highly actionable and it’s helped 50k+ designers and other freelancers learn how to pitch and convert clients.

My end goal is to combine whatever I know about the person visiting to create a really compelling reason for them to take me up on my offer.

FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out

Now that we’ve covered the most important component of opt-in offers – relevance – I want to talk a bit about urgency.

Your opt-in form is all that’s potentially between a visitor and them bouncing back to Google or some other website.

So how can you include a bit of FOMO into your offer copy?

When preparing an offer, think about the following:

  • What’s at stake if they don’t do this now?
  • What exclusive content do you give to your email list that you don’t publish to your website?
  • How can you describe being on your newsletter (ack!) a bit like being in a small community of similar minded people who are all striving for the same outcome?

Let’s look at how we could add some FOMO to the examples I gave in the relevance section above.

Keep reading about marketing… or put into place a system for building a great freelance design business.

Join a community of thousands of other designers in who have committed to owning a more profitable business. Enroll now in my free course and learn how to close your next proposal (while charging more than ever!)

I really like how Paul Jarvis adds a bit of FOMO by making it clear that not everything he writes ends up on his website:

Paul Jarvis optin

Understanding

People want to know that you understand their needs and the way they see the world.

A few years ago, I received an email from someone who was checking out my website and the products I had for sale but… well, she had a few questions for me.

She’d been recommended my site from a friend, but as she was skimming through the sales copy on one of my product pages, she couldn’t help but ask herself: Where am I in all of this?

The language was very developer-ish. The testimonials I included were entirely made up of web developers and designers who had bought my course. And here she was – a copywriter – questioning whether or not I’m at all capable of helping her.

Later that day, she found my email address and sent me a very simple email: “I’ve heard good things about your course. I’m a copywriter, but this looks like it’s for web developers. Can this help me?”

I immediately recognized that she was a rarity. How many other people just like her asked that same question and harbored those same doubts, but decided to close the tab instead of emailing me?

If somebody's on your website and you're offering them something, whether it be a lead magnet or a paid product, they need to see themselves in your product.
  • Who else like them has gone down this road before?
  • If there are testimonials or case studies, can they put themselves in the shoes of the person you’re quoting?
  • How clued in are you to the way they see the world?

You might think, like I did, that the people on your website are pretty homogenous and that they can figure out how to apply what you’ve written to their individual identities and needs.

And you’d be right. Well, sorta.

In Steve Krug’s book, Don’t Make Me Think, the author makes a compelling argument: people don’t want to need to need to think too hard.

People are impatient. They want minimal noise and a lot of signal. They don’t want to need to try to translate what they’re reading to fit their needs.

I wrote for people like me. Which was fine when I was starting out, but I started to lose people as my audience naturally expanded and diversified. Developers like me use the word “rate”, whereas designers often use “fee” and marketers use “budget”.

These are all ways of saying the same thing – how much you get paid – but your word choice affects whether someone ends up thinking that you “get” them.

To show visitors that you understand them, you should try to do your best to figure out two things: who is this person, and why are they here?

While this can be done behaviorally, for most the easiest thing to do is to just ask people via a survey.

GMB Survey

Since this guide’s dedicated to all-things opt-ins, we’re going to stick to understanding people with the intent of getting more of them to accept our opt-in offer and convert.

Here’s what we’re going to do with what we learn:

  • Who someone is: change any specific language (like rate/fee/budget) and talk about others like them
  • Why someone is on your website: change how you describe your offer (or even your offer entirely!)

And how this would look in practice:

Remember that I’m asking people three questions when they visit Double Your Freelancing:

  • Are you currently consulting full-time?
  • If YES, then are you solo or do you work at an agency?
  • If NO, then what’s holding you back?
  • What kind of work do you primarily do?

Combined with analyzing what kind of content they’re reading, I’m able to infer a who (freelance marketer, design agency, not-yet-fulltime freelance programmer) along with a why (need help getting clients, struggling with pricing, worried they aren’t good enough.)

RM Dashboard Stats

This gives me the exact context I need to show someone exactly how what I have to offer, my Charge What You’re Worth email course, can not only help them – but that I, the author, get them.

When I used to just promote the email course the same way to everyone, I ended up with a very respectable 2.5% opt-in rate.

Now? Close to 6% of anonymous visitors opt-in, or more than 2x higher than before.

All because I’m taking what I know about someone – what they’ve told me they do and how their actions help me understand what they’re struggling with – and showing them that I truly understand how to best help them.

Specificity

One issue with the usual newsletter opt-in form is that there’s no specificity typically attached to it.

Sometimes you’ll see helpful copy like, “Get on my email newsletter! I send new content out each Sunday”. But, in general, you’re opting in with the promise of future goodies.

Here’s another example of an opt-in form from Paul Jarvis. This one includes social proof (35k subscribers) and a lot of specificity (“I write a weekly newsletter called the Sunday Dispatches…”)

Paul Jarvis optin total

The copy for your offer and the button that submits your form should be specific.

What happens when someone opts-in? What should they expect?

Offering an email course?

“…Enter your email below to join for free.”, followed by button copy that says: “Send Me Lesson #1”

A downloadable guide?

“Get The Guide Right Now”

Or even a newsletter?

“…Enter your email below and I’ll send you a few goodies right away.”

A few quick thoughts on button copy…

A lot of opt-in forms default to “Submit”. Patrick McKenzie said it best at a conference a few years back: “The only people that should have buttons that say ‘Submit’ are those who run S&M websites.”

Make sure that when you’re writing your opt-in offer that you’re making it very clear what someone’s getting, and how you’ll get them what they need right away.

A Promise

The last component that I want to talk about is your promise of what’s to come after you deliver whatever it is you’re promising upfront.

This might be optional, especially if you don’t plan on forcing people onto your newsletter after they opt-in for your lead magnet. But, in general, you should make it clear that you want to serve them over the long haul – and not in just delivering a PDF or email course.

If your opt-in offer is a newsletter, then… well, newsletters are by definition recurring. So there’s no need to promise much outside of you making it clear that you’ll keep pushing out incredible and sometimes exclusive content to them.

Tim Ferris Blog

Include your promise in either the description of your offer or in the subtext under your opt-in form:

“Enter your email below to get our customer persona worksheet. We’ll also make sure you get exclusive future research and case studies on personalization delivered right to your inbox.

While each of the above components can and will help contribute to growing your list faster, they’re by no means required. If you’re not using software like RightMessage, you won’t be able to easily survey people to change your offer content, but you can still be generally relevant with a lil’ bit of FOMO, specific, and understanding.

Mix and match what makes sense to create your perfectly positioned opt-in offers.

Where should you put your opt-in forms?

So far, I’ve been describing opt-in forms by talking about what they offer and how you describe, or position, your offer.

I want to now shift to opt-in form placement.

Your opt-in forms come in all shapes and sizes. Depending on what form tool you use, you probably have access to a number of different templates or even a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) editor that lets you change literally anything and everything about how a form looks.

But, regardless of the software or plugin you’re using to create your opt-in forms, there are ultimately two styles of placement to be aware of:

  • Embedded: These are forms that are added alongside the other content on your page. For example, an opt-in form below each blog post, in the hero section of your homepage, or embedded on a landing page. It’s important that embedded forms look like the rest of your website and match your overall theme.
  • Superimposed: These are popups, sticky bars, slide ups, and other forms that sit on top of your existing content, making them less dependent on matching your theme.

Let’s break down each placement style:

Embedded Forms

Embedded forms either accessorize an existing page, like when including an opt-in form after a blog post, or are the center of attention and primary focus, like with a landing page.

Depending on the tool you’re using, embedded forms can often “inherit” the styles defined in your website’s theme. This might cause your forms to look a bit… different than what you expected, and can cause a lot of people, specifically those of us who aren’t web designers, to scratch our heads in collective confusion.

What I like about embedded forms are that they can fit nicely alongside the host website.

Chris Ducker homepage

They don’t “stick out” or look out of the ordinary. Instead, done right, they’re the natural next step after reading a great blog post or the primary focus of a homepage.

HelpScout Blog

Landing pages, sometimes referred to as “squeeze pages”, are single purpose webpages that have a form and typically nothing else on them. Think of them as forms with a permanent and shareable URL that, again, have a single purpose: to get someone to fill out and submit a form.

CK Landing Page

While you wouldn’t cram hundreds of words into a small embedded opt-in form, you have quite a bit more real estate and latitude with a landing page.

Here’s what goes into a great landing page:

  • Absolutely zero navigation or distractions. The only action to take can be summed up as: “fill out the darn form and submit it!”
  • Social proof in the form of a testimonial, ideally from someone who fits the profile of the typical person on your website or, better yet, is someone very similar to the actual individual viewing your landing page. I love Sean D’Souza’s framework for getting great testimonials.
  • Much more relevance, FOMO, understanding, specificity, and promises than you’d be able to fit into your typical opt-in form.

For more guidance on creating landing pages, including some landing page software reviews, check out this article by the ConvertKit team. (Note: ConvertKit bundles their own landing page functionality to their customers, so they’re naturally going to be a bit biased.)

Bryan Harris also pioneered the concept of the “upside-down home page”, which has a lot of the same components of a landing page (minimal distractions and a total emphasis on getting people to submit a form) – but instead takes over a key page on your website, like your homepage.

Here’s an example of this style homepage being used by Noah Kagan:

Noah Kagan Homepage

Two step opt-ins?

You sometimes see what are called two step opt-ins on landing pages or with embedded forms.

These are buttons that prompt a popup that shows the actual form.

The most common reason someone opts for a two-step opt-in flow is because there’s minimal real estate on the page to embed a form without it looking awkward, or because there’s a fear that forms drive people away.

However, there’s a third element too that’s often overlooked. If I see a button that says “Start Now” and I click it, I’ve engaged. You could say I’ve partially committed to taking the next step. Then, upon seeing actual form appear (“Let’s get started! What email can I send lesson #1 to?”) there’s a strong likelihood I’m going to fill it out.

Why?

In their article on the Science of Micro-Commitments, the CrazyEgg team digs into why multiple friction points, contrary to what we might think, can actually result in higher completion rates than the alternative.

Our own data shows that prefacing opt-in forms with 2-3 question surveys (allowing us to segment visitors and then show a highly relevant opt-in form) almost always leads to more conversions. This happens due to a combination of two things: micro-commitments lead to more engagement and personalized, relevant offers convert better than the alternative.

Should you use two step opt-ins? Well, it depends. Test it.

Superimposed Forms

The second placement style are forms that sit on top of your existing site’s content, and often appear because of how a visitor is engaging.

For example, exit popups that appear when a visitor moves their cursor outside the frame of the webpage. Or scroll boxes that appear when a visitor has scrolled down half the page.

The available options and names for superimposed forms vary depending on what form software you’re using, but here’s a quick rundown of the most common options:

Popups / Modals

These are opt-in forms that appear on top of your content, and typically ghost or grey out the webpage behind the popup.

Popups are generally triggered by some sort of user behavior or timing, though can be made to appear immediately (a word of warning: Google is penalizing websites that automatically show intrusive popups on mobile devices.)

MyGolfSpy Exit Intent

Popups also block the user from doing whatever they were doing. They need to be dismissed, either by hitting the escape key, clicking an X, or – unfortunately – by clicking a button that says “No thanks, I hate success” (or something equally as obnoxious.)

Here are a few ways popups are often triggered:

  • Immediately on page load
  • After X number of seconds
  • When a page has been scrolled by Y%
  • Exit intent: This is when a visitor goes to leave the page (only available on non-touch devices)

Popularized by HelloBar, these are bars that are anchored to the top or bottom of a webpage. They either show up immediately, or are triggered based on time or scroll percentage.

Pantheon sticky bar

Slide Ups or Toasters

Appearing by “sliding in” from the bottom right or left of a web page (or anchored to the bottom of a page on smaller screens), a slide up is a non-invasive popup that doesn’t block the user from whatever they were doing.

Zen Courses optin

When customers ask us how to best passively profile visitors and show relevant and personalized opt-ins, we almost always recommend starting with a slide up.

Takeovers

These are full page popup modals. Often dismiss-able, and sometimes not, they can be used to either gate content entirely or force segmentation, like a survey, prior to showing an underlying page.

VA Pilot Takeover

Welcome Mats

Similar to takeovers, welcome mats slide down from the top of a webpage and generally take over the entire page. If someone’s already on your email list, being hit with a welcome mat whenever you decide to read their latest article can be exceptionally annoying!

James Clear welcome mat

Vanity Domains

For each core opt-in offer, like an email course or your newsletter, you should definitely set up permalinks for each and seriously consider buying vanity domains.

At Double Your Freelancing my main lead magnet is my email course, Charge What You’re Worth.

I regularly go on podcasts or speak at events and talk about concepts that I cover in this email course. While I have a permalink for this email course - doubleyourfreelancing.com/free-pricing-course - I also own FreePricingCourse.com, which just redirects to that landing page.

CWYW Optin Page

By ensuring that every opt-in offer you have has a dedicated landing page, and through employing vanity domains if you do a lot of public speaking or podcast appearances, you can not only get more people into your offers – but you never need to deal with this awkward situation:

“Hey, I see you keep mentioning your newsletter / this really great email course you’ve put together. How do I join?”

“…Uh, go to a random blog post on my website an opt-in at the bottom of it… or try to leave the page and submit the popup form…”

Opt-in form best practices

Besides the components above that cover what should go into your opt-in offer copy, I want to also talk about a few best-practices that’ll make your opt-ins tasteful and ensure that you don’t come off as a jerky marketer.

Don’t go overboard

It’s tempting to try to have opt-ins everywhere. And you’ve undoubtedly visited a website and:

  • Been asked if you want to accept notifications
  • Been prompted to share your location (wait, what?)
  • Heard the ding that means a chatbot wants to talk
  • Accidentally moved your cursor a bit too far when attempting to dismiss the chatbot, and been hit with a giant exit popup
  • Dismissed that only to have another popup appear asking for your email address
  • Got rid of that, and had a sticky bar show up and anchor itself to the top of your web browser None of these are necessarily bad (well, OK – a few are!), but the prevalence of opt-in software and plugins available today can make having too many interruptions and opt-ins easier than you think. You want your visitors to actually enjoy being on your website, right?

Don’t compete with other CTAs (including other opt-ins)

Another all-too-common mistake (which is partly a tooling problem, but also just us marketers wanting everyone to know about everything) is to have competing calls-to-action.

Don't make the mistake of leaving your visitors confused about what they should do next.

Many sites have newsletter opt-ins, lead magnets, product pitches, and more sitting virtually side-by-side with each other.

This leaves visitors confused about which one they should do, if any. Should they get the newsletter? Check out your product? Get this free guide?

I know that we want to give people options, but there’s something to be said about curating a great experience. And options can work – you should probably have a way for people to see all of your paid products and maybe even your free offers. But you should use the Offer Funnel, which I talked about today and will go into depth on in a later article, to map out a visitor’s primary call-to-action: given what you know about a visitor, what is the single best thing they should do next?

Don’t show if they’re already on your email list

A giant pet peeve of me and the team at RightMessage is to show opt-ins to people who are already on your email list.

Have you ever received an email promoting a new blog post…

Clicked on the link in the email…

And – booooom! – opt-ins everywhere.

(All the while, you’re asking yourself: “didn’t you literally just email me?”)

This is largely a tooling problem. Most opt-in tools don’t know when a visitor is already on your email list, so the default thing to do is to just offer the email opt-in.

Here’s the real problem. Well, two of them:

  1. It’s a crappy user experience. You’re asking people for something you already know the answer to. And you’re badgering your best subscribers and customers with something that doesn’t actually benefit them.
  2. It’s a missed opportunity. You should be offering your entry-level product to non-customers who are already on your list, and cross-sells and up-sells to returning customers.

Don’t be a jerk

Lastly, I want to talk about annoying and aggressive opt-in forms.

You know the ones. They do the usual offer thing in their popup (“Get our free ebook on making more money online”) But the only way to dismiss it is by clicking a button that says something like “No thanks, I hate money”.

These are called “Yes/No” opt-in prompts. And, while some aren’t that bad, I’m not a fan. If you’re looking for micro-commitments, use a proper survey.

Yes No Optin

Be tasteful.

Give people a great experience, and show them highly relevant offers that give them what they need based on who they are, what they need, and where they are in their relationship with you.

Your turn: creating your perfect opt-in form

We’ve covered a lot.

  • What opt-ins are and why they work
  • What goes in to creating a great opt-in offer
  • Examples of opt-ins from across the Internet
  • Do’s and don’ts around placement and how to make sure your offer strategy is tasteful and highly relevant

…Now it’s time to help you put all this into action to permanently up your opt-ins and push new people, every day, onto your email list and into whatever sales funnels you might have in place.

If you have multiple offers already created, like content upgrades on your most popular content or different lead magnets scattered around your website, then you have a bit of a head start.

If you don’t, don’t worry about it.

This stuff isn’t binary.

It’s not either done or not done… you can start small and make incremental improvements over time.

In fact, it’d be crazy to try to do everything covered in this guide straightaway.

Step #1: Figure out what you want to offer

If you just have a single offer, like your newsletter opt-in, then you can skip this step. You’ll be presenting that same offer to everyone who’s anonymous, but you’ll change how you describe it depending on who someone is.

Otherwise, if you have a few different offers, let’s get started mapping out who should get what.

  • Looking at your most trafficked pages, what pages should be responsible for pitching what offers?
  • In reviewing how you’ve categorized the content on your website, should what someone’s reading influence what you offer?
  • For your key pages, like your homepage and about page, what should you offer? Maybe your about page shouldbe just a newsletter opt-in, since these are people who are interested in the people behind a brand.

Remember that you never want to have your opt-ins compete against each other. So be sure to be deliberate around who should be offered what, and when.

Step #2: Determine how you’ll reposition / redescribe your offers

Here we want to figure out how we’ll change how we position a visitor’s offer based on what they’re doing or who they are.

If you’re using traditional opt-in form tools, like the ones built-in to your email marketing app, then you’re most likely going to need to create multiple opt-in forms that are all slightly different from each other and target different pages.

Ideally, you’re going to want to try to infer who someone is and why they’re on your website, and then use that to influence the specific opt-in form (or the copy of your offer’s opt-in form, if you use RightMessage.)

Here’s a quick recap of how you’ll be able to figure out the who and the why for your visitors:

  • What they’re reading right now (e.g. “Guide To Starting A Business” = someone new to business)
  • What kind of content they’re mostly reading (e.g. “Marketing” = struggling to grow)
  • Where they came from (e.g. Quora thread about software developer rates = developer)
  • And any survey data (if you’re surveying)

Map out how you’ll change what your offer says depending on the who/why, and then create the relevant forms (or personalized messaging in RightMessage) that associates each with a specifically crafted message.

Step #3: Ensure your final forms meet the five components of a great opt-in offer

To recap, these include:

  • Relevance: How well what you’re offering relates to what someone’s doing on your website
  • FOMO: Why someone would be crazy to miss out on what you have to offer
  • Understanding: You proving that you get the individual needs of the person you want on your list
  • Specificity: You making it very clear what they’ll get right now by opting-in
  • A Promise: You demonstrating how someone will benefit longterm from their relationship with you

Don’t get hung up if you can’t squeeze everything into a single opt-in form.

The rubric I like to follow is: "If I were talking to this person at a conference after party, and I knew that they identified in this way and had this need, how would I try to tell them why my email list in the bee's knees?"

Step #4: Be tasteful

Don’t have your offers competing against each other.

Don’t have annoyingly popups that are weirdly passive aggressive.

Don’t overwhelm and inundate.

Don’t gun on expecting clueless visitors to somehow fall unwittingly onto your email list.

Step #5: Figure out how you’ll get someone to problem/solution/product-awareness

Finally, remember how I mentioned Schwartz’s book Breakthrough Advertising and the different stages of awareness, from first contact through diehard customer?

Figure out how the offer you extend someone preps them to move further down your awareness funnel and creates customers, rather than being a lure that pops a new subscriber into your email marketing database.